The Church for Today

Getting to know you

Your church is the people

by Richard Hong


“A church is the people, not the building.” Would anyone think of this as a controversial statement? Yet we need to explore fully what this means at a practical level in our churches.

Sure, a common complaint is that there are some who seem more dedicated to the building than to the ministry of the church. However, what I want to focus on is our tendency to present ourselves to the world as a building, rather than as people.

Here is an example: how many times have you considered hosting an event in your building “just to get people in the door”? How many times have you been approached by a group to use your facility with the argument that your church will benefit from the “exposure”?

Most of these efforts bear little fruit, because getting people to know your building is not the same as getting people to know your church. Because the church is the people, not the building.

This isn’t to say that you should never host community events. Of course you should. But to maximize the benefit to your church, make sure the event includes an opportunity for their guests to meet the pastor and congregants of your church. Ask for a chance to address the group. Provide greeters at the door. Ask to participate in a group meal.

I remember hearing the pastor of one of the largest churches in Dallas talk about how tired he was of people admiring his building. They would say to him, “you have a magnificent church!” He finally began responding to such compliments with: “Yes, indeed! Who did you meet?”

The Church Is Portable

Because your church is people, your church is portable. Our sanctuary was destroyed by a fire two years ago. It was five months before we could return to hold worship in our gym.  (The sanctuary will be rebuilt by 2020.) As we moved each week for worship, we experienced the truth that the church was wherever the people were. We experienced what Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20, NRSV)

You can take your church out to meet people. They don’t need to come to your building. Occasionally I hear about churches going out into the community for a “service day” or similar endeavor. That’s great. But I want to encourage you to think more broadly about what it means to go forth into your community.

Any opportunity for someone in your church to establish a relationship with someone is allowing them to know your church. It doesn’t matter where the interaction occurs. In fact, this is where “bricks-and-mortar” strategy intersects with social media strategy. The goal of a social media is to build relationships with people.

What is counter-intuitive is that the old model of church was to have people come to church first, then build a relationship with them. While that still happens, the far more effective model is to build relationships with people first.

If people get to know your church, they will figure out where to find you on Sunday.

The Rev. Richard Hong is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. He is excited to be blogging about his passion for thchurch for Presbyterians Today. Hong’s areas of interest are church technology, leadership and church growth. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to for him to address, contact him at